Grow Up

Taller plants, trellises and vertical art can bring a whole new dimension to the landscape.

Focus On Gardening

July 07, 2002|By Marianne Auerweck | Marianne Auerweck,Special to the Sun

If you can stroll along the garden path without looking up, something is missing from your landscape.

The element of height often is overlooked by gardeners as they create their ideal outdoor showplaces. No matter how generously planted, or how varied the textures and colors, every garden can be made more inviting and interesting with the addition of tall plants, art and structures with vertical lines. There is room, even in the tiniest garden or narrowest border, to add dimension without gobbling up precious space.

"The lack of vertical interest is a common problem," says Mary Podbielski, of No Pink Flamingos Designs, a landscape design firm in Reisterstown. "Looking at a landscape that's too flat can be kind of boring."

She and other landscape designers agree that adding vertical dimension can be achieved inexpensively and without a major garden overhaul. The remedy can be as simple as growing annual vines on a trellis, but a little imagination opens up a great range of possibilities.

Arbors, pergolas, trellises and other upright plant supports have never been more popular among backyard gardeners seeking to get the most out of every inch of available space. But many overlook the value of small trees and stately flowering shrubs, considered essential by garden designers for adding dimension.

Small gardens can be overwhelmed by trees and shrubs that are too large or too dense, but the marketplace offers an immense selection of scaled-down species.

Your choice of plants should be determined by soil and light conditions as well as by the look you want to achieve, Podbielski said. She suggests conical evergreens for year-round vertical greenery. 'Skyrocket' junipers grow up to 15 feet tall, but not more than 2 feet wide, providing height without dominating a small garden.

"There are a lot of ways to add height to a garden," said designer Patty Wike of Azaleas to Zinnias, a landscape design firm in Towson. "Every garden is personal and should reflect the gardener's individuality."

She is particularly fond of Heptacodium, a large flowering shrub that provides year-round interest in the garden.

"It has a wonderful branching habit and fragrant flowers followed by berries and nice fall color," Wike said.

Heptacodium, also known as seven sons flower, grows to 15 feet tall and features exfoliating bark that matures to brown.

Many varieties of Japanese maples also are suited to small gardens, and they are available in a variety of forms, some with brightly colored or variegated foliage that gives your garden an extra splash of color.

Even fruit trees can be used for vertical interest, Podbielski said. Many varieties have been hybridized, or grafted onto dwarfing rootstock, so gardeners can have full-sized fruit within easy reach of the garden path. In a culinary herb garden, she used Stark Bros. Colonnade apple trees to add height. The trees, available from the mail-order company, grow in pillar form, producing fruit on trees that reach 8 feet tall, but do not exceed 2 feet in width.

Though small trees, large shrubs or tall flowers are obvious choices for vertical interest, the experts also suggest adding statuary, bird houses, feeders, weather vanes or other ornaments mounted on space-saving poles to draw the eyes upward.

Moss-lined wire baskets may be hung from horizontal tree branches or wrought-iron shepherd's hooks placed anywhere in the garden. Wind chimes, mobiles, kinetic sculptures or other ornaments also are useful for accentuating vertical elements.

Vines to twine

Growing flowering vines for vertical interest in your garden is easy and economical. Train them on a trellis, arbor or fence, or be more daring: train them onto a topiary form. Some of the best to try are:

Mina lobata. Produces hundreds of stems of unique 1-inch flowers that start out red and change to orange, yellow and finally white as they mature.

Moonflower. A member of the morning glory family, it produces fragrant 6-inch white flowers that open at dusk to attract nighttime pollinators and close at midday.

Hyacinth bean. Purple stems, flowers and shiny 5-inch long seed pods adorn this heat-loving climber.

Scarlet runner bean. Produces bright- red blooms on 12-inch stems suitable for cutting, followed by edible beans.

Cardinal climber. Another member of the morning glory family, it produces a profusion of blinding red trumpets on fern-like twining foliage.

Sweet pea. A staple in old-fashioned cottage gardens, it produces fragrant blooms in a variety of colors.

Clematis. Popular and showy, these perennials grow up to 12 feet tall.

Lonicera. Compact honeysuckle hybrids flower throughout the summer in shades of pink, yellow, orange and red.

Tall and flowering

Give your garden vertical dimension with generous displays of tall flowering plants. There are plenty of perennials, self-seeding annuals and bulbs -- many of them requiring little space -- to help you pack loads of blooms into your summer landscape.

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